From Family Room to the Factory Floor


Between November 2010 and January 2011, Microsoft sold 8 million units of the Kinect, a motion-sensing input device for the Xbox 360 video game console. This pace, an average of 133,333 units per day, earned it a Guinness World Record as the “fastest selling consumer electronic device” to date.

Andrew Adderley (SEI ’14) and Raymond Vargas (CS ’14) are part of a team funded by the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing to explore the use of the Kinect in industrial settings. Peter Beling, an associate professor of systems and information engineering, is leading the project. The industrial partners are Aerojet, Chromalloy, Newport News Shipbuilding, Rolls-Royce and Siemens.

The researchers have two goals. First, they want to study the impact of human performance on productivity, using the Kinect to track worker actions and decisions. They also want to study the effects of production line tasks on human health, using the Kinect to evaluate ergonomics.

The Kinect system projects a grid of infrared dots to determine the depth of every object in its field of view. By mapping depth information to models of the human form, the system provides skeletallevel tracking at 30 frames/second.

During the fall semester, Adderley and Vargas visited a number of industrial facilities to determine how a Kinect system could be employed to achieve these two objectives. For instance, they investigated the use of the Kinect to track welding quality at Newport News Shipbuilding. “One of the issues with welding,” Adderley points out, “is that it produces heat. This could generate interference for Kinect’s infrared camera.”

They also explored using the Kinect as an alternative to the company’s current system of monitoring worker safety. The company superimposes an image over a snapshot of a worker to highlight the worker’s deviation from ideal ergonomic practice. “With the Kinect, we could produce real-time, 3-D information of the same worker,” Vargas says. Once they choose an application, Adderley and Vargas will either use the Kinect software development kit or write their own code to program the device.

This article originally appeared in Impact Magazine.